Monday, February 29, 2016

Live eSports

To complement my new enjoyment of serial TV shows, I've taken to occasionally getting front-row seats at the live sporting spectacle that is competitive Team Fortress 2. TF2 is a video game I've written about many times, and it is competitively played online in two main leagues, one based in Europe and one in North America. Games are streamed live online with two sportscasters and a chat bar for spectators to voice their thoughts.

Competitive TF2 certainly isn't the largest esport, but there is money on the line. I mainly watch North American league; the current season is exciting because there have been a few important upsets and a newer team has risen to the top of the league standings. Most competitive players are in their late teens or early twenties, but two of the six starting players on this new and successful team are fourteen years old and have reportedly had late-night matches conflict with parentally-enforced bedtimes.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fun With Climate Change

I'm writing an essay this week that involves climate change and two of my main sources are the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change). From what I've read so far, these groups disagree on almost every point in the climate change discussion, drawing very different conclusions from the available data. They even use different language to talk about the same concepts: the IPCC says 'acidification' and the NIPCC says 'declining pH'.

Another highlight of my reading time was my struggle with vocabulary; I spent about five minutes reading about 'sulfur and nitrogen deposition via precipitation' before realizing that the paper was talking about acid rain.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Waking Up Poem

I wake up first at four o'clock
And go right back to sleep
This is my favorite time of night
No need for counting sheep

I wake up next at eight-o-five
And start to brace my frame
I have another half an hour for sleep
But it's not the same

I wake up last at eight, half-past
Emerge from my bed's fluff
I don't always feel rested
But I am awake enough

Friday, February 19, 2016

Serial Television

One of my favorite TV shows is Vikings, a historical drama set during the Viking invasions of England and France and featuring the family of Ragnar Lodbrok. The fourth season of this show premiered today and I resigned myself to waiting until the season was released on Amazon Prime. Usually seasons of shows will be released a year or more after they first air.

When I checked Amazon Prime, however, I saw that the premier episode was already up and available for viewing, and each subsequent episode will be hosted there as well. For the first time, then, I'll have the experience of watching a show week by week as episodes come out. I'm looking forward to this new and strange aspect of TV and hoping that the cliffhangers won't drive me crazy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fun With Bioethics

Under English education, university courses tend to be focused on one subject. I've enjoyed studying a lot of biology, but I do miss some aspects of a liberal arts education. I was happily surprised recently to come across a biology paper that, after going through a couple pages of science, began discussing philosophy and democracy (with the ultimate goal of arguing against the EU's strict regulation of genetically modified crops).

There were no direct truth claims in the philosophy portion of the paper (possibly because philosophical ideas are difficult to experimentally verify); instead, each viewpoint was presented as an observation of the human population. Things did get a bit snarky under this method.

To paraphrase:
"the subset of people who, neglecting generally accepted democratic principles, place primary value on personal subjective beliefs pertaining to the negative impacts of genetically modified organisms, may be inclined to argue for extensive government regulation of transgenic crops."

This paper also includes my favorite expression of philosophical criticism: "Many have criticized Rawls' restrictive notion of public reason for being far too restrictive."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Science Facts: Underground Succulents

In desert environments, water is a resource of primary importance, so plants tend to take up as much water as possible and lose as little water as possible from day to day. Most water in plants is lost through transpiration, a process that cools the plant.

One type of desert plant keeps cool by having not only its roots underground, but most of its leaves as well. This may seem counterproductive to the purpose of leaves, but in this plant the tips of the leaves are heavily coated with wax and emerge just above the ground's surface. These wax tips serve as little windows for sunlight to reach the rest of the photosynthetic tissue in the underground leaves.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Great Deals

I'm always happy to get a good deal when grocery shopping. Late in the day, bread from the bakery is often discounted, and to go with it I can get whichever cheese costs 1.50 instead of 2 pounds at the time. The generic brand is almost always better than the name brand for value per value.

Today, I saw that bags of "4 pears" were selling for 1.25 pounds and I nabbed a bag with five pears in it, still 1.25. What a win.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Bad Dream

I had a dream last night that I woke up and looked at my phone and it was 12:30 PM. "Oh no!" I thought, "I missed my Monday morning lecture!" When I looked again, I saw that it was actually 12:30 PM on Tuesday. "Oh no!" I thought, "I slept through the day that I had planned to do the reading for my essay!"

I went over to my computer and saw that my phone was actually a day behind and it was really 12:30 PM on Wednesday. I had slept through the day for writing my essay as well! This was pretty depressing, so I went to the kitchen to get some food. I ran into a friend there and said, "Hey, is it really Wednesday today?"

"What?" he said, "No, it's Friday." I had slept through an entire week of work and appointments! I was trying to figure out how I had been sleeping for almost five days straight. Maybe I was sick again. It was then that I woke up and found to my relief that it was 6:50 AM on Monday, which meant I could still sleep an hour or two more.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Screenshot of the Day: Tropico 3

I was really impressed with the procedurally generated shacks.

Tropico 3 is a simulation game much like Sim City, but instead of playing as the mayor of a city, the player is a dictator of a small island nation during the Cold War era. This means that in addition to running a stable economy and providing civil services, you also need to work to stay in power and manage relations with the US and the USSR, who will send heaps of development aid if courted properly.

I personally tried to stay in power by being a good leader: providing education and good fixed salaries to my people (there was even free food and housing for all students, a matter close to my heart). Educated citizens can produce processed goods, which are more profitable than the raw materials my economy would depend on with an unskilled labor base. Because of all this, I was liked enough that I could hold free elections and still stay in power. My democratic tendencies led to good relations with the US, which was nice.

That being said, I did play into the dictator persona a bit: on of my favorite systems in Tropico 3 is the dictator's personal Swiss bank account. Your score in game is increased by running a successful country, but also by funneling as much money as possible to your secret account. Under my mandated permit policy, 10% of the cost of every building project went to my account, and I paid bankers to divert a small percentage of each yearly national budget to my account as well. It was almost a victimless crime until I found out that I hadn't built enough housing and the professors I had hired were living in shacks behind the university-- I knew I had forgotten some part of the budget.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sainsburys vs Tesco

Sainsburys and Tesco are the two local grocery stores that have about the same selection of goods at about the same prices. They're even about the same distance from my dorm. At the moment, Sainsburys is my preferred location for four major reasons:

1. I like the name Sainsburys better
2. Sainsburys' generic brand is more aesthetically appealing (simple orange and white) than Tesco's
3. Sainsburys has larger, sturdier grocery bags
4. Tesco receipts are printed on both sides, but Sainsburys only on one, so I can write notes on the other side

Funnily enough, the fourth reason is what closed the deal for me. Over the past couple years, I've gotten used to having ridiculously long CVS receipts scattered over my desk and now I'll forget to do a lot of things if I don't have them written down on a receipt somewhere.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sleep Kickstart

A few times in the past year, I've found myself in a sleep schedule where I go to sleep and wake up far too late. One way to kickstart a more helpful schedule is the good ol' "stay up all night and then go to bed at 4 pm the next day" plan. After the initial day, there's a week or so of invigorating early nights and early mornings, which does great things for my productivity, first because I wake up when I'm rested instead of when I have to for class and secondly because I have several hours in the early morning with few distractions.

Unfortunately, I've used this strategy twice in the past couple months. It's a temporary fix, and as I'm currently reaching the end of the effects of my last kickstart, I'm working on developing a more permanent strategy. Probably something involving post-it notes on my bulletin board.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Niche Jokes With Benjamin: Not Funny Even With Context

Why did the parasitoid only donate to radio stations led by intelligent radio personalities?
Because the parasitoid's distribution was inversely dependent on local host density.

You know certain models of ecological succession are hypocritical because the most tolerant individuals are also the best at excluding others.

What's the difference between fire and the water vapor produced by the dorm showers?
One triggers the dorm fire alarm and the other promotes the establishment of conifers.